The Winter's Tale | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale | Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

In the opening scene the Bohemian courtier Archidamus converses with his Sicilian counterpart Camillo. Archidamus hopes that King Leontes of Sicilia will soon visit Bohemia, and he emphasizes that Bohemia exhibits many differences with Sicilia. The two men stress the mutual affection between Leontes and Polixenes, the king of Bohemia who has been Leontes's friend since childhood. The scene closes with polite, enthusiastic remarks concerning Leontes's young son Mamillius, who is heir to the Sicilian throne.

Analysis

This scene is written in prose, in contrast to Shakespeare's other common medium of expression, blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter, or five-stress lines of verse in a rising rhythm). Verse is often used for more courtly, dramatic, or romantic scenes in Shakespeare; prose can be used for everyday occasions, to suggest bantering or playfulness, or to indicate madness, hysteria, or deep upset. Since the two speakers are noblemen, the prose speech would have indicated a more informal setting than the "room of state" in the next scene.

The primary purpose of the scene is to provide exposition. The two noblemen set the scene specifically: a royal visit by the ruler of Bohemia to his close friend, the king of Sicilia.

The language of Scene 1 is uniformly courtly and complimentary, even to the point of hyperbole, or deliberate exaggeration. For example, Camillo asserts that even severely disabled Sicilians cling to life so that they may witness the mature flowering of Leontes's heir Mamillius. Both courtiers are convinced that nothing can shake or alter the long-standing friendship of their respective monarchs, Leontes and Polixenes; their discussion of a future visit and the monarch's sons likewise suggests a sense of stability and ease. The abrupt alienation of the kings from each other in the next scene results in a sharp irony of situation as readers or audiences consider Scene 1 in retrospect.

Archidamus's opening comment that Bohemia is a very different country from Sicilia will be borne out in the course of the play, but the differences will not be vividly apparent until late in Act 3, when the scene shifts from Sicilia to Bohemia.

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